The Three Sisters began with two photos that a friend gave me of nuns. After I created the first two “episodes” of the three sisters with these photos, I used an illustration for each episode that followed. For this reason, it is no mistake that illustrations are an integral part of The Three Sisters.
I think it is unfortunate that very few novels today are illustrated. Since we assimilate visual information much more effectively than verbal information (“Picture’s worth a thousand words and all that,” as Victor Virga would say), there is no reason why novels shouldn’t be accompanied by illustrations. Though most novels are abstract in their cover illustrations, not providing portraits of any of the protagonists, I decided to go against this trend and hire someone to provide illustrations of them both on the cover and within the text because I think this will help the reader to identify with the three sisters more strongly.
Illustrations have played an important role in novels in the past. The Bible (in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berryamong others) and most “classics” were illustrated by Gustave Doré and other engravers from the inception of the printed book until in the nineteenth century. Most children’s classics, such as Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Ozare still illustrated today, but why limit illustrations to children’s books? Moreover, many of the anti-Catholic books of the eighteen hundreds, such as Maria Monk or Why Priests Should Wed included illustrations of the horrific deeds the Catholics were accused of committing.
So, I decided, why not continue this tradition in my own book, including illustrations from the anti-Catholic books of the past and adding new illustrations which would comment on the events within the book? For that matter, why not include illustrations in all novels to make the book more appealing to the reader?
When I originally wrote The Three Sisters between 1980 and 1983, the only way I could do this was by including illustrations from other books which would be suggestive of what was going on in the novel. Today, I can go beyond that. Not only can I take illustrations from other books and use them in the novel, but I can also have someone create illustrations using Photoshop and other programs, but I can also hire someone to create original illustrations for the novel. As digital books evolve over time, there is no reason not to add music, a short film, or other interactive features to the novel as well.
At the same time, one purpose of the illustrations is to intrigue someone who picks up the book at a bookstore (assuming these still exist in the future). Why is there a Wanted Poster? Virgin Mary Milk? What are three nuns doing on Abbey Road? The goal is to make the browser curious without giving away the plot of the novel. I had originally planned on using the painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware at one key point in the novel, but did not do so because this illustration might be a spoiler rather than raise curiosity.
Another big difference between today and thirty years ago is that you can have a website for your book, and use this to both promote the book and explain the motivations behind the book to interested readers. Consequently, not only does this website provide background information on the book, but it also includes numerous illustrations on each web page and in some of the tales and travels relating to the three sisters as well.
For The Three Sisters, illustrations fall into three categories: (1) illustrations from other books or works of art, (2) illustrations put together using Photoshop, and (3) original paintings made especially for the book.
Back in 1983, all of the illustrations were taken from other books, but the ability to put up some of the ideas on the web site and the opportunity to use Photoshop and hire someone to create original illustrations changed this. Several of the illustrations are from old anti-Catholic books, such as I confessed to the Mother Superior and had to kiss the floor, He finally acquiesced to my delitescent desires, Coito in the Confessional, and Free the Three!, which was photoshopped into a T-shirt. There were also a couple photos, including those of Jan Van Eyck’s Annunciation and The Warren Commission.
Photoshop allowed us to put together the Wanted Poster and Tabloid mentioned in the novel. I had created The Cynical Cenacle as a xeroxed work of Mama art back in college, and this work now graces each page of the website. Photoshop was also used for the Virgin Mary Milk and Spanish Inquisition Toy Set commercials during the Festivities.
Finally, we hired Brent Schreiber to create original paintings of the three sisters for the novel. He was great to work with and did an excellent job. He illustrated the cover, and created three portraits of each of the three, which were incorporated into the Wanted Poster and Tabloid Cover. I had originally conceived the Lady Justice as the standing Lady Justice with the sword and scales as standing up, but with a habit. This didn’t really work, so I reconceived it as a more thoughtful, Vargas-like Lady Justice which Brent illustrated wonderfully. Finally, he did the cover for The Three Sisters’ album which parodied Abbey Road.
Should I write another novel, I will also make illustrations an integral part of that novel. I can only hope that other authors will no longer see the written novel and the graphic novel as dichotomous alternatives, but will see illustrations as being an integral part of any written novel.
Nuns just want to have fun! But when three former Catholic nuns have too much fun and get in trouble with the law, they become nuns on the run.
Driving back to Washington D.C. where they work at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Parts, the three sisters are arrested in Tennessee. After defeating the local deputy in strip poker, they escape from jail, and are pursued by the zealous Detective Schmuck Hole, who has personally offered a $10,000 reward for their capture on The 700 Club. Little do they know that when the three sisters visit the Washington Monument, their lives will change forever.
Set in 1979, The Three Sisters is a sacrilegious satire that skewers not only organized religion, but the government, the media, intellectuals, corporate greed and every other part of the establishment. Maybe not the greatest story ever told, but possibly the funniest.
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Genre – Humor, Satire, Catholicism, Politics
Rating – R
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